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Thursday, January 22, 2015 at 4:33 pm

Book recalls Tony Kutter's efforts to bring cheese business to post-Communist Russia

post by Howard B. Owens in books, business, corfu, Kutter's Cheese, Tony Kutter

Imagine a country with only one kind of cheese. If you can, you're thinking of Russia in the aftermath of the fall of communism.

That was the situation Tony Kutter found on his first trip in 1995 to the former Soviet Union as part of a trade exchange program to help aspiring Russian entrepreneurs learn how to start cheesemaking businesses.

Who better to teach how to make and market more than one kind of cheese than the 81-year-old Corfu resident who is a former owner of Kutter's Cheese, a cheesemaker with a reputation for developing dozens of varieties of cheese.

That's what leaders of the exchange program thought after Kutter volunteered for the assignment and his resume landed on their desks.

It was one of Kutter's suppliers who suggested he apply for the volunteer position.

"He said, 'just send in your resume,' so I did," Kutter said. "I did and as soon as I did they responded right away. 'Oh, this is the one we're looking for.' "

Working through Agricultural Cooperative Development International, Overseas Cooperation Assistance and Citizens Network for Foreign Affairs, all three nonprofit, private organizations based in Washington, D.C., Kutter made 31 trips to Russia over a 12-year span.

Batavia's own Barber Conabel, then president of the World Bank, was among the first to suggest Kutter write a book about his experiences during those many trips.

"He said, 'you've got to write a book,' " Kutter said. "He said, 'I don't know anyone who has been there 31 times and all over Russia.' "

The book is published now and it's called "Cheese in the Time of Glasnost and Perestroika."

Kutter tells the tales, recalls the tribulations and revisits the sometimes sad family histories of the people he met while helping to build cheese plants, instructing cheesemakers on marketing, and sharing with them the recipes for any variety of cheese from munster to gouda to cheese curds.

"I got over there and said, 'geez, you make one kind of cheese and it ain't very damn good,' " Kutter said. "So I took about 20 varieties over from our cheese factory and told them, 'tell me what you want to make and I'll show you how to do it.' "

The organizations sponsoring these missions -- and there were many -- wanted to help Russia transition from a command economy to a market economy and help open up the country to U.S. goods and services. American companies helped sponsor the programs in the hopes of developing a new market.

Goals that haven't exactly been met.

His first mission was to help start a cheese factory in St. Petersburg. This mission was also Kutter's first introduction to Russian bureaucracy and the national penchant to operate on bribery.

Organizations sponsoring Kutter's trips purchased supplies for the new factory and Kutter arrived at the border with the equipment. 

A customs official wanted to know, "What the heck is this stuff?"

It's for making cheese, Kutter told him.

The official went through the boxes and proclaimed, "This isn't humanitarian aid. You falsified the papers."  

The fine was $75,000.

Kutter returned to the U.S. without the new factory in place, but when he returned a few months later, the factory was ready to start making cheese. All of the new equipment was installed and ready to go.

He wanted to know how it happened.

"Let's not get into that," he was told. "That's not for you to know."

Kutter added, "everything in Russia is predicated on a bribe. It's still that way."

Sadly, the St. Petersburg factory went bankrupt after two years, but others Kutter helped start are still operational.

In his travels, Kutter was often invited into the homes of his Russian hosts and he often quizzed the older Russians about life under the former Soviet regime.

When Stalin died, Kutter was serving in the Army in Korea and he remembers reading in "Stars and Stripes" about people weeping in the streets, so he asked one old Russian gentleman, "did you cry when Stalin died?"

The man said, no. He wasn't really all that saddened by the brutal dictator's death.

The man told Kutter, "I put spit in my eyes so it looked like I was crying."

Kutter had dinner with a woman whose husband was taken to Siberia during Khrushchev's rule.

The couple had eight children. The man's crime? He took a bag of grain so he could feed his family.

The mother wrote her husband every day, but never got a reply.  They assumed the letters were getting to him, but that he wasn't allowed to respond.

In 1975, after Brezhnev became chairman, she received a letter informing her that her husband "had been killed unnecessarily." The package contained all the letters she had ever sent him.

"I can tell dozens of stories like that," Kutter said.

In the town of Perm, Kutter helped establish a cheese factory and taught the owners how to make a great variety of cheeses, all of which most Russians had never even tried.

He told his hosts that with these great cheeses ready to sell, they needed a way to market them. Thinking of the booming tourist business Kutter's has always done in Pembroke, Kutter suggested they set up a sample table at City Hall. 

As a condition of the permit, Kutter had to speak Russian. Fortunately, he had hired for the plant in Pembroke a woman who was a Russian translator, and she had been tutoring him on his Russian.

"I can speak enough Russian," he told them, "to say, 'I'm from America and I'm working at this cheese plant right here in your city and we developed these new variety of cheese and so perhaps you can try some and tell me what you think.' "

The people came out of the woodwork, Kutter said.

"One woman said to me, 'why are you giving all this stuff away?' " Kutter said.

He told her, "We want to introduce it to you."

She replied, "In Russia, if somebody is giving something away, it usually means it isn't any good."

The Russians liked the free cheese, but that didn't mean they were buying cheese at first.

"I asked one woman, 'would you buy this cheese?' and she asked me what we were selling it for, and I told her, and she said, 'you know, I'd really like to but, no, I wouldn't buy it.' She said, 'I don't have a lot of money, so I would save my money and buy a dress because when I go out in public they can see what I wear, but they can't see what I ate.' "

Asked if he felt he had any lasting impact on Russia, or left a legacy, Kutter demurs.

"I'm just a little old cheese maker," he said.

A little later he came back to the question and recalled the time a sales rep came into the Kutter's factory and asked him if he had heard about the cheese curds recall in Russia.  

"I thought," Kutter said, "there never was any cheese curds in Russia until I went there, so I must have had some effect."

"Cheese in the Time of Glasnost and Perestroika," by Tony Kutter, is normally on sale at the Holland Land Office Museum, but they just sold out. More copies are expected soon. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015 at 12:50 pm

Post Dairy Farm named Genesee County Conservation Farm of the Year

post by Howard B. Owens in agriculture, business, elba

Press release:

The Genesee County Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Directors have announced the selection of Post Dairy Farm, LLC, as the 2014 Genesee County Conservation Farm of the Year. The Post family will be the honored guests of the District at the Celebrate Agriculture Dinner on March 21st at the Alexander Firemen’s Recreation Hall. They will be formally presented with their award at that time.

Post Dairy Farms LLC/ Dan and John Post – Town of Elba
The Posts have been working with the district since 1965. Their dairy consists of about 400 cows and they work about 500 acres. They just recently built a new barn with four robotic milkers; the district was involved with installing drip trenches around the perimeter. Some other conservation practices they have implemented include drain tile, diversion ditches, grassed waterways, covered heavy use area protection, and a wastewater lagoon. (Ken Post – father of Dan and John -- was named Conservation Farmer of the Year in 1973).

Previously: For five generations, farming has been all in the family for the Posts of Elba

File photo: Front row, Dan, John and Ken; and, Laurie and Jeff.

Monday, January 19, 2015 at 7:05 pm

Video: Third annual bridal show at Terry Hills

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Bridal Show, business, terry hills

Terry Hills hosted its third annual bridal show yesterday. This is a video produced for Terry Hills about the show, in case you missed it.

CORRECTION: It was the 4th annual bridal show.

Sunday, January 18, 2015 at 5:31 pm

Owner enjoying larger, more accommodating repair shop location

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, Johnson Automotive

In some respects, Jim Johnson has come a long way. In another, he's moved no further than a block down the road.

Johnson opened his own auto repair shop on West Main Street Road, Batavia, in August 2000 with nothing more than a floor jack and a tool box.

This month, Johnson moved into a spacious new location with four bays.

The new location for Johnson Automotive Repair will be more appealing to customers, Johnson said. For one thing, it has a nice, real waiting room that is heated. 

That's a big step forward for Johnson's business.

"I knew as a customer, I don't want to send my wife into a shop where you really didn't have a waiting room, or they called it a waiting room, and you have to sit and freeze," Johnson said. "Now we have a nice waiting room."

In the old location, Johnson crammed three hoists into a space perhaps best suited for only two into a herringbone configuration. One couldn't even go up all of the way, so Johnson or his mechanics had to work on their knees if repairing a car from underneath it.

A customer who needed an oil change would be asked to make an appointment two or three days in advance.

Now Johnson has three hoists for repairs and a separate bay set up exclusively for oil changes and lubes, no appointment necessary.

The new shop is located at 4007 W. Main Street Road, Batavia.

Saturday, January 17, 2015 at 1:30 am

Crafter gets off of festival trail and opens store in Downtown Batavia

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, downtown

In the craft business since 1998, Andre Gliwski Jr. thinks it's time to settle down.

Rather than setting up a booth at a different community festival each weekend, Gilwski has opened a craft store in Downtown Batavia, at 220 E. Main St. and is hosting an open house this Friday and Saturday.

Working out of a single location isn't just a better lifestyle for a young father (Gilwski and his wife have children ages 1 and 2), it's better for building relationships with customers.

"You have a better following when they know where you're at rather than trying to chase you down," Gilwski said.

Currently his shop, A.J.'s Crafts, stocks only items that he has made, or his mother or wife have made.

Among the kind of things Gilwski enjoys making are jewelry, clothes, blankets, bean bags, hair stretchies, catnip toys, tooth-fairy pillows and scarves.

He said he can make or have made pretty much any custom item a buyer might want.

His mother has been slowed by arthritis, but there's a table in the store filled with her handmade needlework items.

Gilwski's wife also makes jewelry and helps with some of the product finishes on Gilwski's work.

"I like crafts because they're all handmade and not made in other countries," Gilwski said. "It's something I enjoy doing and I enjoy the look on a customer's face when they buy something I've made. It's something different than what you'll see at Walmart or Kmart or some other Big Box store."

Friday, January 16, 2015 at 2:36 pm

Advances in technology that affect business is topic of BID workshop, RSVP by Jan. 22

post by Billie Owens in business

Batavia's Downtown Business Improvement District will hold a special presentation on advances in technology from 8 to 9:30 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 26, at GO ART!, 201 E. Main St.

The topic: "Are You Chip Ready?" The presenter is Chris Vella, with Bank of America Merchant Services.

By the end of 2016, magnetic strips on debit and credit cards will be outdated. Virtual wallets are the future.

This workshop will educate businesses on advances in technology regarding accepting payments, managing customer information, creation of loyalty programs and promotions, tracking sales and inventory, and more.

Free to BID members; $5 for non-BID members. RSVP by Thursday, Jan. 22. Call the BID at 344-0900 or e-mail:  [email protected]

This event is sponsored by the BID's Business Development Committee.

Friday, January 16, 2015 at 7:57 am

GCEDC announces goals for 2015

post by Howard B. Owens in business, GCEDC

Press release:

The staff of the Genesee County Economic Development Center (GCEDC) unveiled its proposed goals for 2015 at the agency’s board meeting Thursday. Among the goals for 2015:

• Generating $35 million in new capital and/or business investments;
• Creating/retaining approximately 205 jobs; and
• Advancing development of STAMP.

Among the plans for STAMP include continue securing funding to advance critical infrastructure development for the site such as water, sewer, natural gas and electric as well as the remaining land acquisition. According to GCEDC staff, securing this funding will further STAMP toward receiving NYS “shovel-ready site certification” and continue to advance the ongoing efforts to market the Park to corporate site selectors in various industry sectors such as nanotechnology.

“We have set the bar very high, but given the track record of the GCEDC the board is very confident in the staff’s ability to achieve these aggressive economic development goals,” said Wally Hinchey who was reappointed as GCEDC chairman at the board meeting. “Through the years we have created a very positive climate for economic growth and we will continue to build on these successes in 2015.”

The GCEDC also revealed plans to continue infrastructure enhancements as part of Phase II development at the agri-business park and ongoing collaboration with the Town of Le Roy on its potential development of a “greenfield” site located near Route 19 and West Bergen Road, bordering the Village of Le Roy. The GCEDC also plans to enhance its municipal and regional stakeholder outreach program for county and regional stakeholders with a particular focus on municipalities and school districts.

In addition to Hinchey being reappointed as chairman, the GCEDC also announced the appointment of its 2015 officers:

• Mary Ann Wiater, Vice Chairman
• Penny Kennett, Secretary
• Lezlie Farrell, Treasurer
• Steve Hyde, President & CEO

“On behalf of the staff of the GCEDC, we are very excited to embark on another year of significant economic development activity that will continue the growth and prosperity of the region,” said Steve Hyde, GCEDC president and CEO. “We are grateful to the GCEDC board for its support of our efforts and we look forward to collaborating with the public and private sectors in our collective efforts to create and retain jobs and bring new investment to Genesee County.”

Thursday, January 15, 2015 at 3:36 pm

Molino honored by city management association

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, Jason Molino, Milestones

Press release:

Jason Molino, City Manager for the City of Batavia, recently received the Credentialed Manager designation from ICMA, the International City/County Management Association. Jason is one of over 1,300 local government management professionals currently credentialed through the ICMA Voluntary Credentialing Program.

ICMA’s mission is to create excellence in local governance by promoting professional management worldwide and increasing the proficiency of appointed chief administrative officers, assistant administrators, and other employees who serve local governments and regional entities around the world. The organization’s nearly 9,000 members in 27 countries also include educators, students, and other local government employees.

To receive the prestigious ICMA credential, a member must have significant experience as a senior management executive in local government; have earned a degree, preferably in public administration or a related field; and demonstrated a commitment to high standards of integrity and to lifelong learning and professional development.

Jason is qualified by more than eight years of professional local government executive experience. Prior to his appointment in 2006 as City Manager of Batavia, he served as the Assistant to the Village Manager for the Village of Port Chester, NY.  In addition, Jason served as a 2nd Class Petty Officer in the United State Coast Guard Reserve from 2000-2007

Highlights of Jason’s ICMA membership include: member of the 2009 Montreal ICMA Conference Planning Committee and most recently the City of Batavia and Jason were recognized by ICMA as recipients for the 2014 Program Excellence Award for Strategic Leadership and Governance.
Jason has also made significant contributions to a number of other organizations, including: serving as Board Member of the New York State City/County Management Association, current member and former President of Genesee County Cornell Cooperative Extension and Graduate of Leadership Genesee – Class of 2008.

Thursday, January 15, 2015 at 1:23 pm

Former flight school owner returning to Batavia to teach flying again

post by Howard B. Owens in business, Genesee County Airport, P&L Air

Pete Lockner has decided retirement is for the birds. He'd rather get back to doing what he loves: teaching people to fly.

Next week, the County Legislature will be asked to sign off on a new one-year lease for Lockner to open -- we should say, reopen -- P&L Air, a flight school, at the Genesee County Airport.

Lockner and a partner (hence P&L) first opened a flight school in Batavia in 1986. Lockner bought out his partner when he took an early retirement from Kodak and grew the school into an operation with 10 aircraft for students to rent and learn in.

"I taught people how to have fun for 17 years and it was great," Lockner said.

After 17 years of fun, Lockner sold the business, but that operator eventually closed up shop and moved to Florida.

A second flight school opened, but was forced out of business 18 months ago in a tax dispute with the State of New York.

While taking in the dry heat of Albuquerque, N.M., Lockner heard of the vacancy at his old airport and saw it as an opportunity to get back to doing what he truly enjoys.

P&L will be a small enterprise to start, with only one single-engine plane, but Lockner is ambitious. He hopes to have a second plane in a year or so and add on from there.

"In a couple of years, I'm hopeful the business grow like it did before," Lockner said.

Lockner's interest in aviation goes back to his college days, but didn't start flying until his wife bought him a gift certificate for ground school for Christmas when he was 40.

Bit by the bug, Lockner is licensed to fly everything from a single-engine plane up to a commercial airliner. 

P&L will provide pilot training for beginners and beyond.

The basic single-engine pilot license without an instrument rating is pretty much all anybody needs to fly to any destination in the world, Lockner said.

He used to fly all over the country on such a license. 

"The private pilot license is most useful because as long you don't worry about bad weather, you can fly anywhere you want," Lockner said.

County Highway Superintendent Tim Hens said Lockner returning is welcome news.

The one-year lease will expire about the time the airport will get a new terminal, and P&L, if successful, could be a nice anchor tenant.

"It's nice to have him back because he knows the airport and he knows the market, so I think he will be successful," Hens said. "He's a good pilot."

Thursday, January 15, 2015 at 8:01 am

Athletes looking to improve performance can get an edge at new facility in Batavia

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, sports

Getting young athletes ready to compete at a higher level is one of the primary missions of Athletes Edge, a new training facility on East Main Street, co-owned and operated by Ben Buchholz.

Buchholz is a coach with Batavia High's football and baseball programs and he said what he's seeing today is local schools squaring off against Monroe County schools, and those athletes have taken on more challenging training routines during the off-season.

It's no longer enough just to show up on the first day of practice and expect to be ready to go. Young athletes need to train during the off-season.

"We're falling behind what we have to do to help us get better in every aspect of sports," Buchholz said. "We need to do more off-season stuff and this gives kids a chance to really get in here and do it. Now a lot of kids are doing a lot more off-season work and it shows in season. To compete, you've got to do it because everybody else is doing it."

The Blue Devils' deep run in post-season football is an example of how good off-season training can pay off, Buchholz said.

When you walk into Athletes Edge, if you're expecting a gym, you'll be struck by what you don't see. There are no weight benches, universal machines, dumbbells or barbells.

Modern athlete training is no longer about just pushing around heavy slabs of cast iron.

It's about speed, agility and stamina, and that's where Buchholz puts the emphasis.

The training tools at Athletes Edge involve boxes and stretch bands, but much of what is taught and trained is about body weight.

Plyometric workouts, which involve body weight and explosive movements, are a big part now of even the most elite athlete's daily routine.

"It's getting away from lifting huge heavy weights and getting into more athletic movement with strength," Buchholz said.

The facility's batting cage and pitcher's mound might leave the impression on a visitor that there is an emphasis at Athletes Edge on baseball, and that wouldn't be an incorrect perception, but the facility and training is open to all athletes and all sports. Notre Dame hockey, for example, is considering a team training session, Buchholz said.

Le Roy and Alexander's baseball teams have both already been in for a session since the business opened a month ago.

There's training available, also, for younger athletes. Athletes Edge is sponsoring travel baseball teams for youths from 8 and under to 12 years old.

Buchholz also hosts group events, such as birthday parties for youths. Those events might involve activities such as dodgeball or kickball or other activities.

"Whatever parents want to do, we set it up and just roll with it," Buchholz said.

Athletes Edge is located at 214 E. Main St., Suite #3, Batavia. The phone number is (585) 356-5995. The business is co-owned by Sam Antinore.

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